Stop Forgetting People's Names

Hugh to the rescue with four quick fixes for that awkward moment

By Hugh Upsher

It happens more often than I’d like to admit. I meet a person, smile, exchange names and by the time they’ve finished saying their name, I’ve already forgotten what they said. It’s a lose-lose situation where I feel like an asshole for not retaining the most basic of information, and the person whose name I can’t remember feels like a shmuck. Admitting it is the first step – I recognise the problem, but my name database barely covers my immediate family, so acquaintances that I bump into after a few beers don’t stand a chance in hell. 

However, there are a couple of life hacks I’m aware of that are worth experimenting with; like repeating the person's name back to them several times like a deranged person, or word association where you link a name to an object or adjective (e.g. Trashy Travis or Lame Linda). These methods have never been that effective for me, and therefore suck, so instead here are four much better options, listed in degrees of desperation.

The assist

Best-case scenario is you’re with a person whose name you don't know, and they're able to do the work for you. All you need to say, is: ‘Have you met my friend Rossouw?’ and let the person you're introducing Rossouw to force out a fresh name exchange without your assistance. Then you simply listen in and pray the name sticks in your head long enough to make it through the rest of the braai. 

The bra/bro/bru

I’m a big fan of calling people "dude", "bro", "man", or even the occasional "china". Unfortunately, if you pay close attention, there will be a half-second delay before I say anything, which is where I feverishly rack my brain for an actual name. This is a relatively low-risk manoeuvre where I can buy some time to either figure it out or overhear someone else say it. Then I say the name out loud and proud to overcompensate for not saying it initially. I have unfortunately failed to find the best generic word for female acquaintances. Dudette? Bbz? Hon? Feel free to put forward your politically correct suggestions in the comments section below.

The find-a-friend

This is the most high-tech approach and can work wonders in certain circumstances. Say you’re at a bar and you make eye contact with a friend of a friend, which suggests a confrontation is imminent. What you do is whip out your phone ASAP then go and find a quiet corner where you can pretend you’re having a personal crisis far worse than casual forgetfulness. Meanwhile, you're feverishly Facebook searching the mutual friend while praying that this person shows up somewhere on said friend's profile.  

The confession

This shouldn’t be seen as a last resort, but it will always carry that dreaded sense of humiliation. The biggest trick with this approach is not how you do it, but when you do it. The best time to admit defeat is obviously up front as you greet them. Totally understandable, and this also gives them a chance to admit to having forgotten your name, too. The longer you wait the harder it will be to rebound, especially if none of the options above are viable.

And if you’re stuck in a conversation with an unnamable person and the chance for name retrieval has long since expired, your best option may be to run away from the problem. Literally run away, or possibly move to a different city just to be safe.